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Friday, November 15, 2013


Is hoarding a mental illness or a behavior which emerges from environmental and social circumstances?  Until recently it was thought to be a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) until studies showed hording behaviors aren't resolved with OCD treatment. 

"Clinical studies have focused on clinical compulsive hoarders, those at the far end of the clutter spectrum.  Clinical compulsive hoarding doesn't happen overnight, it develops over many years or decades."

As community intervention programs explore the world of hoarders, they are learning that the 'clutter spectrum' is wide indeed.  But there still seems to be a residual emphasis on "personal recognition of a problem".  Embarrassment is touted as "a step forward". states that after this initial recognition, "the next [step] is wanting help and being willing to accept it". 

Embarrassment and shame are powerful emotions, but they create barriers as well as catalyze change.  This means that the current intervention strategy naturally excludes those who have cultural or personal resistance to shame and who will not trust anyone who tries to induce it.  "Asking for help" is also an unnecessary ritual.  Often loved ones and trusted friends can provide intervention once they understand the causes and coach a person through the transition.

So if hoarding isn't a mental illness, what is it?  Hoarding shows signs of memetic transmission:

"Offspring who are not actually hoarders but because they have never had a model for living in an organized uncluttered home, don’t know how to do it. They don’t know how to sort or weed out unwanted items. If there have been any personal traumas and/or anger, their problems are compounded.  What is both interesting and exciting for us is that these clients move forward very quickly, once they understand how to do it."

These children are at increased risk of developing behaviors somewhere on the hoarding spectrum until they learn habits and strategies that eliminate clutter .  In this case the behavior is a natural outgrowth of a healthy Neolithic brain which has not adopted a memeplex (clutter-reduction) to adapt behavior to the modern environment.

Clutter-reduction is an acquired skill.  Humans were nomadic for most of our history and this limited the materials we could collect.  People did not need to use much brain power to determine if an item was retained.  Useful items were retained, but could be discarded as the community had the ability to reproduce these items. Heavy and bulky items were naturally left behind.  Food was hoarded and people who compulsively collected & processed foods had a survival advantage.  Foods were shared and consumed.

Civilization gave us the concept of personal property and acquisition.  But it wasn't until the industrial revolution that material goods could massively accumulate.  The advent of wage labor made us more insecure in our ability to provide for ourselves in the future, and yet we are bombarded with memes which tell us  to 'plan ahead'. 

Our brains have not had enough time to adapt to our altered environment.  We can learn strategies which will help our Neolithic brains perform better in this new world.  But in times of cognitive development and decline as well as stress, some of us will develop hoarding behaviors.  What was an asset to our ancestors is now a challenge. 

Our relationships to memes play key roles in hoarding behaviors.  "Words take so much time to process that getting behind with them can happen very quickly.  Many people hoard words making those clots very common."

Just as our bodies crave nutrition, our brains are hungry for information.  Words enrich our lives, help us assess threats and direct us towards resources vital to our survival.  But our modern world produces information on an industrial scale: daily newspapers, magazines, books, advertisements, bills & financial statements, etc.

Add to this memes from authority figures:  The IRS suggests you keep all receipts and tax information for 10 years.  Or the ever present reminder on electronic statements and receipts: You may want to print this statement for your own records.  Add the stress from a life-altering illness or financial issues and you soon have the foundation to develop "non-optimal" living arrangements.

The behavior of 'pack rats' is a natural phenomenon.  Hoarding takes time to develop, it takes time to resolve.  Understanding memetics gives us the tools to comprehend this phenomenon, help our neighbors and create healthier communities.

Continue to Pedagogy

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Non-Optimal Elder Care

We are the product of civilization, yet we live a highly nomadic existence.  We do not leave our elderly and infirm in valleys with a few days of food and supplies like our ancestors did.  We do entrust our family members to institutions when our employers or life circumstances call us away.  We trust the social machine and its human elements will provide love and compassion.  We assure ourselves that there are standards and regulations which govern these medical facilities.

Have we ever considered that some of the regulations are ill advised?  Take the depression/mental health screening which is mandatory in nursing homes.  For a middle aged man in rehab, perhaps it is appropriate.  For an elderly dementia patient who keys in on someone's words and obsesses over them, it is the beginning of a nightmare.   The young social worker comes in and administers the questionnaire.  The very last question is: "How often do you think of death and dying?" 
Now if engaged in activities and a steady routine with plenty of rest, this individual may not think of an abstract concept like death very often.  But someone asked a question and the brain works to respond.

        "Oh, every now and then I guess."
Every now and then isn't one of the choices on the questionnaire.  
So the na├»ve social worker tries to get a more accurate response.  

"How often is every now and then?"
"How often do you think about dying?"
        "Well, it's going to happen!"
"Yes, but I need to know if you think about it a lot.  Do you want to die?"
        "Who wants to die?"
"Some people want to die."
        "Should I want to die?"
"You tell me.  What do you think?"

The dementia patient doesn't respond but that's ok.  The social worker is able to write on the form "does not answer question, avoids eye contact, hunched forward with head on hand" and leaves to perform other duties.  Meanwhile the dementia patient is sitting there, unable to redirect herself with the idea of 'death'; 'some people want to die' & 'should I want to die?' rolling around in her defenseless mind.  

When a family member walks in the patient cries, 
"Get out!  The blond girl talks to me about dying and I won't!"

The social worker hasn't been properly educated, even if she has met every standard the state and facility sets.  She was taught depression is a disease diagnosed with a questionnaire.  She knows nothing about memes and contagious ideas.  She is unaware she set the patient into an emotional crash which the staff will bear the brunt of later.  When the nurse manager approaches her about the patient's disturbing behavior and the possible need of antipsychotics, the social worker will nod slowly and agree, "Yes.   She seemed depressed at her last interview."  

The wording and timing of questions can trigger changes in thoughts and mood, altering the final results of an assessment.  We need to consider that even though someone retains the ability to communicate with words, assessment strategies must change as a person looses their ability to protect themselves from the unintentional influence of others.  Until we integrate meme theory to our understanding of mental health, we will still be living in the dark ages.

Antipsychotics and antidepressants in elder care mask problems, suppress expression and prevent communication, impeding appropriate care.  The drugs reduce behaviors that upset observers, acting as chemical restraints.  One alternative to drugging the elderly is identifying structural violence which stresses an individual.  Important questions to ask are:  Do they need more time to sleep?  Is something painful?  Is there an infection? Do they need more (or less) human interaction? 

There are some innovative ideas in elder care including The Eden Alternative and the book Dementia Beyond Drugs: Changing the Culture of Care.  These alternatives focus on moving from a "dose" approach on interaction (patient received 5 minutes of 1-to-1 interaction with the nurse on second shift) to integrated, productive activities built into the daily routine.

But these innovations are not being encouraged by drug reps or encouraged by regulatory agencies which worry: "How will they document and verify this and how will compliance affect state funding?"  It will have to be individuals, families and the wider society applying selective pressures which will cause an evolution in the memeplex of elder care.

Continue to Hoarding

Monday, November 11, 2013

Child 'Abuse'

Some will take offense that the word abuse in the title is in quotation marks.  The subject is serious and should not be easily dismissed.  However, the word abuse is loaded.  It demands immediate intervention and creates partisanship.  Either the adult is guilty or innocent, the child a victim or not.  This turns into a question of personality, perception, reputation.  Responsibility is placed on the individual adult.  They should know how to behave.  Even when we talk about environmental stressors leading to abusive patterns, the focus remains on that particular adult's strengths and weaknesses.  How much can they bear?  Maybe parenting is too much for them.  We're doing a favor by removing the child.  We go down a pre-programed path instead of examining the intricate development of each 'abusive' situation.

Let's play with the language for a moment and call abuse 'non-optimal interaction'.  That's terribly sterilized.  It doesn't show the spectrum of mistreatment or the long-term consequences.  But this sort of language is necessary for us to get out of the rut of emotional reaction and pre-programed memetic responses and outcomes.  We can begin to look at non-optimal interactions as behavioral patterns within our society.

Many are aware of religiously-motivated child abuse.  Let's look at the non-optimal memeplex of Discipline.  The doctrine (the memeplex) and thus the leadership teaches faulty ideas of child cognition & development which is passed to the parents to apply in raising their kids.  They may view certain strategies as 'discipline' while others see it as 'abuse'.  If the child responds with resistance the religious memeplex frames this action as being linked to the rebellious nature of the child, signaling to the adult that they need to increase the 'discipline'.  Conversely, when a child complies with 'discipline' or even learns to respond with gratitude, the parent is taught to interpret this as evidence the strategy is working.  Both performed gratitude and genuine gratitude reinforces the parent's behavior.  The parent becomes convinced that opponents of their strategy are closed-minded and can't understand that this works for their family.

But let's not use religion as a whipping-boy.  There are other institutions which instigate mistreatment of children.  In the name of optimizing a child's current & future "success", how many parents in the USA are encouraged and comply with drugging their children?  We assume that since the Dickensian orphanages have been shuttered, institutional mistreatment of children does not exist.  We do not see mandatory mind-altering drugs as a violation of a child's rights.  We instead spin it as empowering the child to get the medical attention they deserve and we insist this is in the child's best interests.  In such an instance it is the teachers and administration which act as instigators and the parents are just middle-management deferring to the authority of the educational and medical systems. 

It is the responsibility of all to question how they may be propagating non-optimal memeplexes.  The development of a non-optimal memeplex is not a conspiracy or work of the devil.  It is a naturally evolved phenomenon.  But its continuation & propagation is due to the unquestioning compliance of adults.

Here is one final ironic thought. 

We tell parents threats and punishment are inappropriate, ineffective tools for changing behavior & educating a child.  Then we threaten to tear apart their families if they don't obey our mandates, go to counseling or parenting classes and turn their kids over to us for evaluations.  The persistence of this concept of 'good parenting' vs. 'bad parenting'; of 'abusive' vs. 'loving' parents, of parents 'deserving' or 'not deserving' to maintain custody of their children is grounded in the Christian memeplex of sin, punishment, repentance and redemption.  Adults can adopt strategies for optimal interaction based on environmental cues and observing other adults.  They don't have to grovel, repent and beat themselves up first. [In fact we find that shame and negative self-perceptions are contrary to fostering growth.]

Progressive, secular culture may have tossed out the mythology long ago, but it persists in maintaining Christianity's vision of individual failings and socially sanctioned punishment, distracting us from the larger picture.  It's time to reconsider.

Continue to Non-Optimal Elder Care

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Child and the Meme

+Tim Tyler's  insightful cover of his book Memetics: Memes and the Science of Cultural Evolution is an invaluable commentary on childhood development.  It is a close-up of a crying baby's face as light bulbs with wire tails encircle the head trying to get in, reminiscent of an ovum being fertilized by sperm.  It also illustrates that memes are replicators just like genes.  It is brilliant!

We often idealize childhood:  Life was so much simpler then. Or was it?  How quickly we forget.  Just as a baby begins to explore the world and experiences rapid physical growth, its brain goes into high gear with language acquisition and reproduction.  But it must work hard to produce the right sounds as it learns to control breath, vocal pitch, lips, cheeks and tongue and also contends with the eruption of teeth! Pleasure from linguistic interaction and playful enthusiasm aid in this daunting task. [1]

As the child grows  it develops a near obsession around age three for repetitive tasks and verbal rhythms.  Abstract words are still tied to observed realities and will remain this way for a while.  We also see an uncanny ability to pick up on the context of a word and use it, even when the meaning is unknown.  When a child hears someone curse and then repeats the word and sees the novel reactions of adults, the child repeats the experiment and revels in the reaction.  This word must be important for the brain to retain if it evokes such a strong response!  The adult, conscious of the social fallout reacts as their social memeplex demands.  The child, driven more by biology than by memeplex programs, persists.  This is why social awareness of childhood development & language acquisition is crucial.  If left to compulsively carry out the "parental role" of current social memeplexes, the adult often responds to the child in ways that are counter-productive to their goal and a vicious cycle of reaction-response-reaction ensues.

The brain doesn't simply wait for linguistic interaction to occur.  It plays internally with the language, runs simulations of conversations, day-dreams.  This is as important to development as social interaction.  The brain acquires memes and assembles memeplexes.  Through peer group interaction and interaction with adults the child learns if the internal memeplex aligns with the collective, shared memeplex.  Then it works to refine the internal memeplex.  A child who's memeplex aligns completely with the prevailing memeplex is often labeled the "good kid" (or alternatively, "the suck-up"); a child who maintains some independence in their memeplex is often labeled "creative".  The one who strays too far is labeled "troubled".  In reality, all dispositions ("good";"creative";"troubled") can create problems or be an asset. 

Let's look at the label "troubled" since it gets a lot of play.  A teacher can get frustrated with the personality and behavior, label the student, give them poor marks, encourage the parents to apply pressure and behavior modification and advocate for the use of drugs.  Alternatively, a teacher can observe a "troubled" student and wonder, "How is the structure of my classroom hostile to this child?"  The "troubled" student can be a barometer, sensitive to structural pressures while the teacher and other students remain unaware.  This child may also be communicating that they are contending with more memetic interactions than their peers (they may belong to a memetic minority even though they dress, speak and are the same color and social class as other students).  It is the teacher's responsibility, as the educated adult capable of reflection and adaptation, to address the deeper picture instead of assigning labels, and to turn the experience into one of mutual growth. 

Language acquisition is stressful.  Memeplex conformity (disciplined thinking) takes years to learn (and unlearn).  We often face contradictions between received memeplexes and personal experience.

We experience misunderstandings & conflict with peers as we experiment with language and transmit ideas.  We run into linguistic sub-cultures which challenge the ways we think.  We often experience challenges with authority figures who have the power to reward, punish and label.  And when we just about sort it out...along comes puberty. 

The most important thing for any parent, educator or decent adult to remember is that brain development is different from their observations and perceptions.  Evaluation has limits and biases.  Often teachers will view development as stunted when what they are observing is only the expression, the ability to communicate proficiently.  Effective communication includes awareness and assent to norms as well as an established scaffold of trust.  Traditional evaluations take the social complexity of learning and all its challenges away, attributing shortcomings to the individual student when it is often the institutional structure, methodology, praxis and student-teacher relationship which need to be critiqued.

Continue to Child 'Abuse'

[1] Here is the beauty of intention-less design.  Language acquisition applied selective pressure on our species, in parental bonding and in mate bonding.   Babies who did not experience pleasure (a biological incentive) from linguistic interaction had less success in bonding with caregivers, and lower survival rate.  Adults who were not linguistically proficient or who lacked a desire for linguistic interaction were less successful in passing on their genes.  From the beginning memes had a symbiotic relationship with the genes. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Importing Memes and Maddness

Japan has a complicated history of memetic imports.  Confronted with a European memeplex which refused to integrate and instead assaulted native memeplexes, Japan gradually reduced imports, limited visitors and then shut itself off from foreign lands in the 16th century.  Suppressing (sometimes executing) hosts and destroying foreign writings and artifacts, the native memeplex launched a multi-pronged immune response to the foreign invasion. 

The European invader was Catholicism.  Often when this story is told it is rendered through European or Japanese eyes, or as an example of a less tolerant, less humane era.  As humans, it's natural for us to tell it from this human perspective.  But to do so, even as non-partisan historians, overlooks the memetic mechanism.

Japan did not remain isolated forever.  An awareness developed that if the rest of the region industrialized and adopted a Western military, Japan would loose autonomy.  Japan was behind the times.  The regional saturation of European memeplexes made bakumatsu necessary for the survival of Japanese memes. This led to treaties, exchange of ideas (gradual adoption of choice parts of European memeplexes), involvement in European politics and eventually a nationalist self-perception which resented US imperialism in the Pacific, allied itself with Axis powers (WWII) and initiated a preemptive strike on US territory.

After defeat in WWII, the peace treaty required economic, social and military restructuring in favor of US interests.  Japan was not a vassal or colony by traditional definitions, but the US presence and authority was felt as the conqueror rewrote political, economic and social memeplexes to neutralize any threat and foster trade.

These changes primed the Japanese market to be receptive to American memetic exports.  With Westernization came the expansion of the middle class, urbanization and the appearance of a traditionally "Western" ailment: Anorexia Nervosa.  The emergence of this illness is complex and the Japanese variant has its own complex emergence.  Is it the result of imported standards of beauty or a hybrid of traditional values of self-restraint coupled with food abundance and urban lifestyles? Or are there variations on the sources of emergence which are unique to specific subjects?  One thing is certain.  It is not biologic agency but memetic agency which precipitates this illness.

Another memetic import which is outcompeting traditional memes in Japan is the idea of clinical depression and the need for pharmacological intervention.  Japanese culture originally had a romantic love of sadness, grief and unease.  These were common human emotions in a warring feudal society and before the development of antibiotics.  Emotional pain was seen as strength of character, evidence of loyalty, a shared, ennobling experience.  Extreme depression was a known phenomenon, but thought to be extremely rare. 

But a culture which comfortably contemplates loneliness and sorrow in theatre, music and ritual is not a receptive market.  To expand and exploit this market, a company must first sell the idea that strong emotions, especially negative ones, are a threat to productivity and social harmony.  The experience of Dr. Laurence Kirmayer gives us an idea of how pharmaceutical companies invest lots of money to gather knowledge and apply it to re-engineer the memes of a market.

[An in-depth academic investigation can be found in the paper: Global Pharaceuticals: Ethics, Markets, Practices by Kalman Applbaum.  Of particular interest is a heading within the paper: "Speeding the Evolution" to Global Standards.]

Continue to The Child And The Meme

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Inconviences of Modern Life

There are multiple changes in environmental stimuli which modern humans with ancient anatomies struggle to acclimate to:  Artificial light, abundant food, population concentration,  language headaches (as we interact with other people and subcultures at an ever-increasing rate), creating biological stresses, and structural violence.  Global climate change is not the only crisis of the second replicator.  Memeplexes are creating internal crisis in their hosts though altering our environments and our mental flexibility / adaptability.

Let's start with the environmental changes.  Artificial light doesn't just complicate the lives of plants and nocturnal animals.  It's an environmental change (read: selective pressure) for our own species.  Artificial lighting and screen time disturb our hormonal patterns and interfere with natural sleep cycles.  Medical authorities and historians are reconsidering our understanding of natural sleep cycles, theorizing that segmented sleep is the natural pattern for humans.  This form of sleep is becoming increasingly rare with modernized, industrial schedules.

We have an abundance of high-calorie foods laden with chemicals engineered to enhance flavor and cravings, even when these foods ignore our nutritional needs.  Suddenly we can't trust our cravings and our taste buds to lead us in a healthy direction.  This is an environmental change, with evolutionary consequences.

In the public discourse, we talk about dietary diseases (diabetes, heart disease, obesity) as stemming from either a lack of restraint (eating the wrong foods) or a lack of initiative (not exercising) when the subject is more complex.  Food desertsincome, and stress hormones play key roles in food 'choices'.   The evolutionary pressures we create with engineering our foods is another factor missing from our dialogue.  And what ties it together?  The memes.  The ideas which have engineered this modern world in the way it is, putting evolutionary pressure on us.  [Bear in mind: When an environment changes too rapidly for adaptation and too many individuals are eliminated or prevented from reproducing, population deflation or extinction occurs.]

We also come into contact with more humans than our Neolithic minds know what to do with.  The Dunbar Number sets the limit for human social groups at around 150 individuals.  This is about how many people one individual can maintain relationships with.  But in our ever sprawling megacities and mass migrations, our brain's social networking is used in other ways. 

[Listen to Dawkins speak about religion, gods and "imaginary friends".  One might think this is evidence of mental illness, but when we look at this as an evolutionary adaptation to physical and social change, it is not so startling.  It becomes less a question of widespread madness and more a study of how modern changes have been advantageous to the spread of certain memeplexes and the extension of immaturity--which we will investigate further on.]

The city, telecommunications and transportation expose us to culture shock as we bump into subcultures, workplace cultures, venues (a club vs. piano bar vs. a drum circle), experience age and gender segregation, role expectations and then the disillusion of these constructs.  We do not have to travel internationally to experience language headaches.  Often different use of words, changes in speech patterns, terminology/acronyms/slang, and ideology-heavy English (say you watch Bill O'Reilly then browse, or read Capital and Atlas Shrugged simultaneously). Language headaches can then morph into migraines when there is a memetic barrier to adopting a new language. 

These social and environmental changes are a form of structural violence within our cities.  These rapid (evolutionarily speaking) environmental and social changes have immense human fallout.  Our inability to recognize the cause, to focus on the effect & blame the neurobiology of the individual, to prescribe industrial solutions instead of neutralizing the causes, is yet more structural violence.

What lead us into this modern land?  In our earlier discussion about our need to cultivate symbiotic relationships with memeplexes, I did not intend to suggest we do not benefit already from symbiosis with them.  We developed a symbiotic relationship with memeplexes from the start.  The memeplex played a  parenting role, stabilizing our food supplies, developing architecture.  As we domesticated other species, we domesticated ourselves.

Civilization extended childhood, even empowered people to experience lifelong "immaturity"  (meaning a dependency on the society to feed, clothe and shelter).  A book could be written about the drawbacks of domesticated humans and where it might lead our species.  But let's look at some of the advantages.  We have increased leisure time (read: playtime, oh yeah!), meaning an increased potential for learning and a increased opportunity for creativity.  We have increased life expectancy, material goods and food security.

If you didn't take the opportunity before, listen to this recording of Dawkins b/c it addresses the domestic anatomical and psychological features of humans. 

[There is actually more study on this subject than I initially realized.  Gregory Stock addresses self-domestication in several works, as a potential road of future human evolution.  It would be interesting to find a paleoanthropology study on the morphology of the human body as we became modern humans.  I am also curious to find out if there are studies about human mate selection that go beyond the traditional assessment of selection due to symmetry and class signifiers.  Could we be selecting for domesticated attributes (wide eyes, round face, small jaws, docility)?]

It is important to keep in mind that our symbiotic relationships with memeplexes are not completely beneficial.  While they provide so much, they also limit our mental flexability, innovation, action and freedom.  To create a truly symbiotic relationship with the memeplex, we must take initiative and recognize those social constructions which have created alien environments hostile to our biology and mental health.

Continue to Importing Memes and Maddness

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Brain Knots

We tie our minds in thought-knots and spend our time untying them.

Some languages are worse at this than others.

Focused on finding causation, English is a decent language for scientific inquiry.

But it makes our inner lives complicated.
We grapple with dichotomies and absolutes:

Good vs. Evil  (or Good vs. Bad)
Liberal vs. Conservative
Strong vs. Weak
Gay vs. Straight
Correct vs. Incorrect
Male vs. Female

We ask not only why we did something, but what it means that we did it.
Not only what we feel, but how we should feel.

And when the answers are complex or contradictory we wonder...

Does this mean I am good or bad?
Does this mean I'm healthy or unhealthy?

Learning to think outside dichotomies expands our internal landscape.

Moral, Immoral, Amoral
Correct, Incorrect, Awkward, Graceful
Male, Female, Transgender, Neuter, CIS

It destroys the emotional split of either self-satisfaction or shame.  Our attention shifts from our self to the complex interactions in the world around us. We consider, we contemplate, we observe and adapt.

As we go into this month of exploring mental health issues through a memetic lens, here's something to consider: 
Maybe there's nothing wrong with how you think, maybe your thoughts are complicated by the language you speak.

Continue to Inconveniences of Modern Life

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Sanitized World (November)

The Hygiene Hypothesis proposes that the line between parasite & symbiote, pathogen and probiotic is more blurred than we previously assumed.  We evolved in an environment which exposed us to parasites and pathogens, and the interplay between these agents and our immune systems developed a balance. 

Parasites excrete immune suppressants and our immune systems responded by gradually growing stronger.  When parasites were suddenly removed by sewage treatment and  clean drinking water, our immune systems were left unchecked & without their traditional targets.  This may explain why some people's bodies attack inert debris like pollen as if it is a pathogen and why still others develop autoimmune diseases where the body attacks its own healthy cells.

We also have the endosymbiont theory which explains how mitochondria and chloroplasts were once separate organisms which developed symbiotic relationships with other cells and got those cells to take over their reproduction in exchange for energy. 

So there is a precedent of observed symbiotic behaviors of parasites/pathogens and their hosts.  So let's get back to our topic of memes and memeplexes.  Brodie's comparison of the meme/memeplex with a virus works in how it transfers from person to person and how it defends itself from competition and from the host's defenses.  From there Brodie develops a critique similar to Dawkins, that these memetic viruses are the bane of the human species and must be eradicated to improve our quality of life.  But that ignores what we know of the evolutionary process.   We are co-adapted with memeplexes.  We can improve our immune response to them, we can identify which are helpful, benign or destructive and tailor responses accordingly, but we cannot excise them completely from our experience.  They are a part of us.  Let us resist the temptation to despise our own flesh.

It's time to move away from the paradigm of "germs cause disease, prevent illness by universal sterilization"; "memes cause mental illness, prevent mental illness by eradicating memes" to a more progressive stance of promoting symbiotic relationships and addressing specific problems within the studied environment.

Continue to Brain Knots

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Muwahaha...Happy Holloween to all you spooks out there!

The maladapted pseudoscientific hybrids of the Social & Hard Sciences are macabre.  They are more dangerous than the Inquisition, because though we are aware of them, we rationalize and defend them.  There will be no enlightened skepticism to rescue us this time. 
Some seek deliverance in ancient or new religions, others turn to power, demand rules & enforcement, cynically surrender or foolishly believe we can protect ourselves.  Many go with the flow and stop thinking.  Deep, critical thoughts are uncomfortable.  We should have empathy, not contempt, for the discontents of Science.  When we see exactly what is done in the name of 'reason', those who would not run screaming into the hills must be mad.

We will now examine a few of these curious demons of modern life, if you dare!

Psychiatry:  The amalgam of chemistry, neurobiology and psychology yields prescriptions, forced medication, incarceration.  Patients are expected to devalue their internal dialogue, question every strong emotion and when tensions arise attribute it to their own inherent flaws.  It's a transposed attitude about the 'soul'(rechristened the 'mind') a vestigial mythology sanitized of superstitious language but still far from reality.  There are no cures, only treatments, patients must recognize their illness, and resolve to accept 'treatment' from the modern shamans even when their bodies revolt.  If psychiatry were a relationship with a person we would counsel that it is unhealthy, that (intentional or not) manipulative behaviors are present and the patient is dependent.  But because it is a relationship with a prevailing cultural memeplex, we let the person be contorted and controlled.  Some psychological disorders seem to be inherent in certain brains, like schizophrenia and neurodegenerative disorders but the prevalent diagnosis of schizoaffective disorders, the belief that these are permanent chemical features when neuroscience has demonstrated the plasticity of the human mind, is absurd.  The resilience of this faulty medical paradigm has more to do with ideas left over from Western religion and industry's advertising campaigns than with science, but when science gets top billing,  science receives the blame.  And of course we're going to talk about the science, because science sells.  Science is authority.  Pay no attention to the economics and religion behind the curtain.

Political Science:  In more candid circles it is known as Propaganda.   But on diplomas and in the media, we call it Political Science, Public Relations and Human Resources.  It gauges responses to information campaigns and engineers future programs to be more effective at manufacturing consent.

It is the cancer of a democratic society, as more are starting to realize with the expansion and transmission of independent media.  Nevertheless, it has the sheen of dispassionate science, and after all, it is done for the common good, right?  No!  It is done for the memes, seeding ideas that oppress our humanity.  But we believe we are constructing a better society than we had yesterday and we keep forging our chains, looking askance at anyone who stands disillusioned. 

Social Policies:  In the name of building a more just society we have created social institutions that turn people against the state and science.  There are people who shudder at the mere mention of Child Protective Services.  US drug policies, justified by biased medical studies, have dictated global policy and animated the prison-industrial complex.   And there are our educational institutions which train people to be cogs in the social machine, to recite rather than think, to take a test rather than investigate and dream. 
Is it any wonder so many people are disenfranchised from Science and its benefits?
Science educators have not failed in their duty.  Our culture has confounded the language and we are left with inarticulate forebodings.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


"You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure."
~ the Matrix

Could humanity be analogous to the spread of cancer in an otherwise healthy body?  Jared Diamond has investigated how humanity engineered it's own demise on multiple occasions in his book Collapse

It must be a flaw in our species.  We have big brains, but maybe not large enough to see the full picture.  How else do we explain Global Climate Change?  It is a disquieting, fascinating idea.  Disturbing because it raises further questions about population control, government power and human rights.  It's easy to slip into questionable policies, such as the UK funding sterilization programs in India.  It's also easy to slip into paranoid YouTube rants.

Some human societies have lived sustainably within their environments.  So, maybe it's jumping the gun to say humans are the problem.  This is where it gets fascinating.  Memetics provides us another factor to study, and frees us from dismissing the problem as a moral failing or idiocy of our species. 

With memetics, we see the role the meme & memeplex  play in shaping individual and collective thoughts  & behavior.  Our world is run by memeplexes, not masters.

The modern global-economic memeplex has no regard for us...

It think's it's alive and does everything better.
With equal resolve it creates and destroys.  ~ Rilke

But it doesn't have to remain this way.  We are the writers of this memeplex.  Each one of us.  Instantaneous communication has enabled a previously unimaginable empire to emerge, constructed with social as well as material machines.  This global culture has polluted our air, depleted soil & fresh water and dehumanized us...but it is evolving.  We are aware.  We want memeplexes that are beneficial to us, which take a symbiotic instead of parasitic role in the global ecosystem.

What selective, evolutionary pressure will you bring to bear?

Continue to Fraken-Memes

Friday, October 25, 2013


Tycho Brahae & Johannes Kepler's different temperaments and personal philosophies made collaboration nearly impossible.  Both accomplished astronomers in their own right, Brahae's concern for his legacy and Kepler's protestant ethics slowed the exchange and interbreeding of ideas.

In a similar way, the temperaments of the Social Sciences and the Hard Sciences make their synthesis appear to be impossible.  This is not only an issue of specialized vocabularies or "turf wars".  It speaks to the basic methodologies and assumptions of the two tracks.

Let's begin with every "real" scientist's favorite punching bag: Social Science. It has several apparent weaknesses.  It has ingrained linguistic biases which frame interpretations and judgments.[1]  The social sciences also accumulate extensive data (interviews, historical texts, etc.) regardless of the accuracy of these materials.  These resources are available for any academic to review, reinterpret or reframe.

On the other hand we have the apparent strengths, the rigors, of  the Hard Sciences.  The discoveries have mathematical proofs not just correlations.  No mediocre theory lasts long, or so the story goes.  Hard Science is compact, not verbose.  Physics has no need for literature reviews.  It is austere, elegant in its simple precision and proofs.  But hard science has its own shortcomings.  Politics and economics creep into the lab, individual scientists censor themselves to gain professional ground and if an unwary neophyte ventures out of the prevailing paradigm they will face suppression. 

So the question is, will we ever develop a methodology for integrating the hard sciences with the social sciences or will we continue to allow them to clash (bringing disrepute to science in the public sphere)?

Continue to Oh The Humanities

[1]  An example would be the prevalence of the term "deviant behavior" in applied psychology and sociology, even decades after their research counterparts have swapped this term for "non-normative behavior".  The first term carries a value judgment, the second does not.  The second (ideally) creates a space for objective observation.  But in a culture focused on individual action and evaluation, the traditional term holds out.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


You might want to know why I'm doing this.  Why not publish a book or work towards recognition in an academic field?  If I believe this theory withstands the highest scrutiny, why am I resorting to writing (without any guaranteed compensation) on the internet?
The best way to spread this idea is to produce short, well written appetizers for any internet wanderer to digest.  This will encourage people to take a deeper interest in memetics, beyond internet cat-memes.

Bottom line:  the internet age is an age of information abundance, not scarcity.  The best way to empower people to improve their life is to spread the informational wealth.   Memetics affects every person on the planet, therefore its investigation should be a communal effort rather than an ivory tower privilege. 

Continue to Roadblocks

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sophisticated Immune Systems: Science [Four]

"Religion is the nourish-crop of Science.  I think it’s very possible that we would have never had Science if we didn’t have the Religious Era first.  We can be grateful for those oats.  Now we have Science, and it’s not clear whether we need to plant any more oats."
~ Daniel Dennett

The memeplex of science has a sophisticated immune system.  It increases our knowledge base not by making it too sacred to investigate, but by testing data and remaining open to new interpretations.  Science views knowledge as a common good rather than private property and seeks to protect that knowledge through vetting discoveries before adding them to the cannon of knowledge.  The process of peer review confers social recognition on those who contribute to the scientific body of knowledge, tying itself to basic human emotions and pleasures.  Science rewards a host society with knowledge, material goods and leisure. 
Perhaps most importantly, Science allows us to reconsider and adopt new strategies.  It allows us to see past our biases & sensory limitations and approach a closer understanding of reality.  This allows us to move from wishing or delaying satisfaction until after death to working towards knowledge and understanding, helping us create a just society.
Unlike political, economic or religious memeplexes which restrict information flows and unequally distribute limited resources, Science (independent of other memeplexes) offers direct and democratic interaction and intervention.  We are no longer dependent serfs but co-creators with this memeplex.  We are what we were in the beginning, the parents and potters of the memes.

Still, the scientific method(s) is far from perfect.  Testing of a new theory is hard to initiate while scientists are committed to a current paradigm (emotionally & professionally).  Objections and dismissals are heard in all corners.  Other memeplexes compete for resources, redirect funding and create emotional blockades in would-be allies.  It is a general inertia.  But we should never assume that the scientific method will triumph in the end.  It is but one memeplex in a global jungle.  It must have its champions.
Reality-testing, the basis of Scientific inquiry, is perhaps the first and truest devotional impulse of our species; discovery for discovery's sake, aiding unconsciously in our survival.  It is perhaps this original devotion that we will now turn to, as we  see the pitfalls of dogmas which limit human flourishing.

Continue to Platforms

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sophisticated Immune Systems: Economic Structures [Three]

Economic structures are memeplexes that have the power to unconsciously alter their material and memetic environments for their survival advantage.  For ease and brevity I will address the defensive structures of Corporate Capitalism only, although all economic structures deserve to be equally scrutinized.

Corporate Capitalism engineers its memetic environment to be hospitable to the perpetuation of its memeplex.  It creates copyright laws and patents.  It shapes education to introduce ideas of intellectual property and centralized, privately-funded research for capital gain.   It shapes distribution of resources and information,  funneling material resources to allies (the State, the Church) and away from individuals and small business which might undermine its survival. 

For some, Corporate Capitalism is inextricably intertwined with their emotions and self-perceptions.  They avoid exposure to competing ideas.  They see the ideology as unquestionable, even when policy implementation spells disaster.  But this blind devotion of a few is not enough to keep the system afloat.  Even the support of a majority fed on media propaganda is not enough to perpetuate an economic system over generations.  
The bottom line which keeps Corporate Capitalism going is the dependency of every person (or their strong belief in their dependency) to be rewarded and sustained by the system.  As long as a person is dependent on a paycheck to cover the mortgage and the groceries, that person is a loyal cog in the economic system. 
Ecological mapping of economic memeplex development, introduction and competition might reveal new insights to historians studying the colonization of Africa, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the suburbanization of the United States. 
Note: Stating that memeplexes have the power of a replicator to adapt, grow and shape social and natural environments provides a counterbalance to the fear-mongers who think the world is run by an elite conspiracy.  Check out Noam Chomsky's short talk on differentiating between interest-based actions vs. conspiracy theories. 
[Again, this analysis of economic structures as memeplexes which alter environments for their survival advantage should be applied to investigating all forms of economic organization.]

Continue to Sophisticated Immune Systems: Science [Four]

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sophisticated Immune Systems: High Control Groups [Two]

"Cult" is a misleading word.  For many it conjures the image of Jonestown and Heaven's Gate.  For others it is a mere theological distinction: any doctrine other than the one held by a speaker is labeled "cult".  It is more productive to speak of High Control Groups and Thought Reform Environments.

High control groups can be centered around political, economic, educational or therapeutic doctrines and are certainly not limited to supernatural beliefs.  Perhaps the most glaring examples of political cults are North Korea and The Third Reich.  Less obvious (and less comfortable for the US audience to contemplate) is how the political system of the US is high-control in some sectors.  There are economically motivated groups like Amway.  There are even educational approaches which construct thought reform environments, fostering group loyalty and suppressing self-motivated inquiry.

Thought Reform memeplexes are highly integrated with a host's brain, controlling emotions, thoughts, behavior and access to (and processing) of new information and reality testing.  Because of these features, thought-reform memeplexes are able to spread within a population even when they are detrimental to an individual, the host-group or the wider society.

For a more detailed investigation of High Control groups, look at Hassan's BITE Control Model, Margret Singer's work Cults in Our Midst and Robert J. Lifton's The Psychology
of Totalism

This lecture by Steven Hassan addresses verbal Strategic Interaction with Cult Members.  Through understanding how high control groups use language to program a devotee's mind, counselors and loved ones can help the member regain their former identity and leave a destructive group. The general language and thought patterns of specific groups which Hassan addresses at 21:20-23:21 should be of special interest to those studying memes through linguistics.

Continue to Sophisticated Immune Systems: Economic Structures [Three]

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sophisticated Immune Systems: Religion [One]

One feature of a memeplex (versus a set of independent memes) is its ability to scrutinize other memes, incorporate compatible memes and respond defensively to detrimental memes.   To draw the biological metaphor out, a memeplex has an immune system.

The sacred statements of religions are perhaps the best known examples of memeplex immune systems.  For example: Catholics say, 'Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.'  It is a declarative statement that is (or is expected to be) beyond question. It is the core of the faith.  Serious discussions may be had about other doctrinal points, but the core teaching is too sacred to be examined.  

Affirming this declaration (even in ritual and not as personal conviction) places the speaker in an in-group, making them more receptive to internalizing other ideas within the Catholic memeplex.  ['Taboo' or 'sacred' statements indicate regions of vulnerability & intense defensive structures, the equivalent of 'vital organs' in a biological organism.]

If these ideas are ever challenged (or perceived to be challenged) there are various, natural responses within the community to limit the damage.  Internal, individual responses can range from strong emotions of anger & sadness to dispassionate dismissal of the speaker due to age, gender, education, etc.  These responses distract the listener from possibly adopting the new, opposing meme.

Communal responses range from embarrassed silence, contemptuous laughter or redirection of the discussion.  This is accompanied by a social demotion for the culprit and anyone in close association with them, making even the most daring soul reconsider dissent.

Additionally, the most sacred memes continue to persist in the minds of former Catholics.  For example, a former Catholic may continue to believe that Jesus is the Christ and attend another Christian denomination.

These patterns of emotion and behavior are predictable, no matter how personal the experience is for the people involved.

Continue to Sophisticated Immune Systems: High Control Groups [2]

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Focusing on Language: Our Minds Are Not Our Own [Three]

No matter how excited we are by the prospect of studying memeplexes, we must remember our subjects are inextricably interwoven with human brains and societies.  Careful concern for people intertwined with a memeplex under study is non-negotiable.  Questions of ethics should not simply be ordained by the rituals and rubrics of internal review boards.

I ask those pursuing the study of memetics to pause and contemplate the ethics of their work and to open dialogues about the direction, funding and social impact of their research.  With knowledge comes responsibility. 

Our minds are not our own, but are shaped by our parent cultures.  In every question we ask lie biases and perspectives which can alter the thought patterns of others.  Interaction spreads the weaknesses as well as strengths of our memeplexes, with unforeseeable consequences.

What then should we do?  Must we adopt some form of  the Prime Directive to avoid responsibility for negative outcomes?

Continue to Sophisticated Immune Systems: Religion [1]

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Focusing on Language: Don't Reinvent the Wheel [Two]

We can't waste time constructing an approach from scratch.  So let's borrow from other disciplines.  Our theory proposes memes are replicators just like genes, so strategies of studying genetic populations should be adaptable to the study of memeplexes.

Just as we can track the introduction and spread of invasive species, we can use principles of ecological mapping to  see how  new memeplexes spread and impact other memes.  We could visualize the waves of the First and Second Great Awakenings.  We could see how Cold War concerns led world leaders to actions which primed certain populations for religious memeplexes spread by US missionaries.  We could see the memeplex of non-violence spreading from India to South Africa and the United States or the exponential growth of the Anti-Slavery Movement as it confronted and then co-opted religious language.

[There are other visual tools from the biological sciences which we can borrow.  To see how some theologians & religious studies scholars have applied phylogenic trees to religious traditions, check out this truncated phylogeny of Christianity .  Scroll down to see the diagram.]

But this approach has a broader application than simply the study of religions and social movements.  We can apply it to the history of Science.  We can visualize the paradigm shifts Kuhn wrote about, mapping the spread of scientific revolutions and how they correlate to the spread of communications technologies.

We can also use satellite imagery to study the spread of agricultural memeplexes, to see how Western Monoculture has overtaken the diverse systems of traditional farming, even where monoculture is ill-adapted to the traditional landscapes (signifying a complex memetic story).  We can see the growth and spread of cities & artificial light.  We can see the mines, supply routes and industrial centers, how the geography of our planet has channeled the flow of certain memeplexes, aided in their development or stifled them. 
We could, with our new information technologies, demonstrate that cultures are natural phenomena.

Continue to Focusing on Language: Our Minds Are Not Our Own [3]

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Focusing On Language: Designing Methodologies [One]

Linguistic analysis is our best approach in designing a methodology of memetics.  Words provide us with a record.  Though meanings of words change over time and have different emotional values for different people, if we account for these variations, words prove to be a good foundation for quantitative (not just qualitative) analysis. 

Here is a brief sketch of how a methodology for analyzing memeplexes might work:

We need to look at how a memeplex interacts with individuals, its environment and itself.  To understand how a memeplex functions, I propose three levels of analysis.  The Personal & Social, Ecological and Ideal levels of analysis.

Personal & Social:  Understanding how a memeplex interacts with how a person thinks and how they encounter and respond to their environment is accomplished through qualitative interviews and observational notes.  This level of analysis is important for the field of psychology / mental health.   Of equal value is understanding how a memeplex regulates behaviors and thoughts, how it engineers a social structure.

Ecological:  This level examines how memeplexes compete for resources and spread through populations.

Ideal:  Linguistic analysis of holy texts, official publications, or massive collections of correspondence can provide a baseline of what the ideal expressions (social, political, psychological, economic, etc.) of a particular memeplex are and how it has evolved. 

[Side Note: General quantitative analysis can be accomplished through Linguistic Analytics (mathematics).  An example of this can be found at in the talk  Mapping Ideas Worth Spreading.]

Continue to Focusing On Language: Don't Reinvent The Wheel [2]

Friday, October 11, 2013

...or not

A follow-up to the post: In The Beginning Was The Word

The written word developed from the spoken word.  Was the first spoken word the ex nihilo origin of memes & memeplexesWere they suddenly created by the god-like awesomeness of the human brain?  That's too anthropocentric & mythic to be accurate.  Evolution encourages us to see how complex systems in nature arise from simpler forms. 

Even though the development of language is typically seen as the beginning of the human species ("what makes us human") it is not the origin of memetics.  There are simple chemical precursors to memes.  Certain plants exude chemicals which attract predators of pest species when the pest species attack, an example of interspecies signalingAmong invertebrates, colonies of ants and bees use pheromones exuded by the queen to maintain and direct collective behavior. 
More complex behaviors in some animals, such as matting rituals (including acquisition of ornamentation, shows of fitness and hunting & nest-building skills) also appear.   Driven by a biological need to pass on genes, animals use resources and brain power to communicate their fitness. 

We also observe vocalizations in whales, birds and other creatures.  The wild turkey has distinct calls linked to mating, observed threats, assembly calls, etc.  These may be instinctual but they serve to network individuals to share information relative to survival. 
Still, it appears that we are the only species to have developed true memes, distinct from our biological and environmental needs.  We may never know if any other species achieved this. But it is painfully obvious the proliferation of memetic precursors made the environment ripe for the development of modern memes.  It is our evolutionary fortune (whether ill-fated or blessed) to share contagious ideas. 

Since language systems are superimposed on an organic brain-scaffolding, abstract concepts can trigger deep emotional and biological responses.  In fact, it is those memeplexes which access our emotions and drives most deeply which make the deepest impressions on our lives, cultures and biosphere. 

Continue to Focusing on Language: Designing Methodologies [1]